How Desperate are you?

ToiletMany of the toilets in this part of the world, particularly in China — even the ones in touristy places like museums or the airport — are of the squat variety.  If you’ve never encountered one of these things, it’s basically a porcelain hole in the ground.

Proponents will tell you that squatting is actually a more natural position than sitting to do your business, and maybe that’s right, but I just can’t do it.  There are so many ways it could go wrong.

I actually came close to being desperate enough to use one at one point– but then I had a grim, Dead Zone-esque premonition in which I lost my balance mid-squat and fell over, and that was that.

Exploring the Forbidden City

Forbidden City, Beijing, ChinaBuilt in the early 1400s, the Forbidden City is a really impressive palace compound (consisting of 980 buildings over 180 acres) right in the middle of Beijing.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

There’s not a whole lot to do in there other than wander around and admire the various buildings and statues (like Pompeii, this is one of those places I kind of wish I had done in a tour for a little bit of historical context).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Still, it’s seriously impressive, and if you’re in Beijing, there’s really no excuse to miss it (when I say it’s in the middle of the city, I mean it’s literally almost exactly in the centre of the city, so it’s very easy to get to).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Crossing the Road in China can be Hazardous to your Health

Beijing trafficI’ve mentioned some of the quirks of crossing the road in a couple of the cities I’ve been to so far.  Well, Beijing has a pretty big one: cars will straight-up run you over if you’re not paying attention.

In most cities, pedestrians tend to have the right of way when they’re crossing at a crosswalk, or at the very least, cars are somewhat deferential.  Not so in Beijing.  Crossing the road is like playing a real-life game of Frogger, only with life-or-death stakes.

Beijing traffic

You’re not safe once you’re in the middle of the road away from the turning area, either — cars will do these crazy, super-wide turns (presumably to weave around pedestrians) and they’ll sometimes get within inches of where you’re walking.

And then there are the scooters, which seem to exist in a completely lawless state where they can go wherever they want, whenever they want.  As far as I can tell, traffic lights don’t apply to them at all, and yet they’re essentially little motorcycles, so that’s fun.

On a trip to Shanghai last year, a distracted guy on a scooter was headed straight towards me on a crosswalk; I had to dive out of the way to avoid being hit.  It’s kinda nuts.

McDonald’s Around the World: China Edition

McDonald's in Beijing, ChinaMcDonald’s in China is an absolute treasure trove of menu oddities.  It’s amazing.  There were a few countries where I struggled to find even one or two things that I wanted to order; meanwhile, there was so much stuff I wanted to try in China that I actually wound up having two separate meals at McDonald’s.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

Up first: the Jumbo Wing, which is literally just a full chicken wing that’s been skewered on a wooden stick.  It’s not bad.  The meat has a salty, almost cured flavour — it’s definitely been brined in something.  The skin could have been more crispy, but it was a pretty good wing.  I guess there’s nothing particularly odd about a chicken wing, but this really seemed like a strange thing to be eating at McDonald’s.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

The next thing I tried was the Italy Stewed Flavour Big Chicken Cutlet.  This is basically just the chicken from a fried chicken sandwich, but without the sandwich.  Eating it like this just made me miss the sandwich parts of the sandwich.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

There was also the Chicken Patty Rice.  This was a bowl of rice with some kind of sweet sauce, bits of mushrooms (I think — I can’t find any information about this online.  That’s what it tasted like, at least), lettuce, and pieces of chicken.

This was actually quite tasty.  The sauce had a slightly sour flavour to balance out the sweetness, and the chicken was dark meat (the general preference for white meat back home completely baffles me — dark meat is more tender and more flavourful.  It is objectively better than white meat).

McDonald's in Beijing, China

Then there was the German Beef Double Sausage Burger.  I’ve mostly been skipping the  burger options at the various McDonald’s I’ve been to, because for the most part, they’re pretty boring.  But this one has two German sausages on it, so yeah, obviously I had to try it.

It was okay, I guess.  I think the sausages were supposed to be bratwurst, and they were fine.  But the two burger patties were even more dry than usual (and at McDonald’s, that’s saying something), which made it hard to enjoy.  Still, the tasty horseradish mustard helped.

McDonald's in Beijing, China

And finally, I tried the Passion Fruit and Peach Jumbo Cone.  This was pretty good: the sauce was quite tart, contrasting well with the very sweet soft serve, and the couple of whole peach slices on top were a nice touch.  I think the cone was a charcoal cone?  Either that or chocolate.  Either way, it didn’t taste like much, and it was slightly bitter (but not unpleasantly so).  It was fine, but a cup probably would have worked a bit better — it was a mess.

Give These People Air

Beijing, ChinaYou’ve probably heard that the pollution in Beijing is so bad, just breathing the air is the health equivalent of smoking a bunch of cigarettes.  This is true.

It’s actually worse than you’d think.  It actually wasn’t something I was thinking about until my throat starting getting scratchy.  It’s noticeably bad.

There’s a website that measures various pollutants in the air and then turns those into a number called the AQI (air quality index).  As I write this, the AQI in Beijing is 167 –anything over 50 will impact your health.  For comparison’s sake, the current AQI in Toronto is 9.  So… that’s not great.

Post-Wall Duck

Siji Minfu in Beijing, ChinaI mentioned in a previous post that I wasn’t sure if I’d get a chance to sample Peking duck — given that it involves a whole duck, it’s not exactly a solo-friendly endeavor (though in retrospect, I’m pretty sure I could have polished it off myself if I came hungry and didn’t order anything else).

Once we got back into the city, a few people from the group I went to the Great Wall with decided to go to Siji Minfu for duck.  So: problem solved.

The place is super popular (we had to wait about an hour for a table), and as far as we could tell we were the only foreigners in the place.  Both of those things seemed like good signs.

The waitress didn’t speak a word of English, but with an assist from Google translate along with a lot of pointing and nodding, we were able to order several dishes (including duck, of course).

Siji Minfu in Beijing, China

Everything was quite good (with a really tasty coleslaw-of-sorts being the best of the non-duck dishes), but of course, we all knew what we were there for.

Siji Minfu in Beijing, China

Each person gets a plate with various condiments:

Siji Minfu in Beijing, China

You then take one of the wafer thin pancakes, prepare it with some of the duck, some of the condiments, and of course, that gloriously fatty, crispy skin.

Siji Minfu in Beijing, China

It was really, really good — but it wasn’t particularly better than the best Peking duck that I’ve had back home (but then I’m lucky enough to live near an area with a bunch of really great Chinese restaurants; that probably won’t be the case for everyone).

Jaw-Dropping Sights at the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China near BeijingI almost didn’t even bother going to see the Great Wall of China.  I figured it’s cold, it’s expensive, I’d have to wake up early, and wouldn’t it be easier to just… not go?  I mean, it’s a wall.  What’s the big whoop?

The whoop, as it turns out, is pretty big.  The Great Wall might have been one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

The most commonly visited section of the wall from Beijing is Badaling, which is apparently the most well-preserved section, and the closest to the city — but it’s also the busiest by far.

The group I went with started at the Jinshanling section of the wall, and hiked to Simatai.  It’s a bit farther from the city (it was about a three hour bus ride each way), but aside from our group, I saw maybe a dozen other people on the wall, so it’s clearly worth it to take the extra effort.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

Before I started researching it, I wasn’t even entirely sure what you do at the wall.  Do you just look at it?  Do you get to stand on it for a bit, then you have to leave?

Yeah, no, it’s a hike.  The stretch of wall that my group did was about six kilometres, and it was surprisingly exhausting.  A good chunk of it was uphill, with lots and lots (and lots) of stairs.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

That isn’t any kind of camera trickery — I just stood at the bottom of the steps and took that photo.  They really are that steep.

There were some fairly steep inclines that didn’t even have any steps.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

But man, it was so worth it.  It’s one of those things that’s impossible to capture in photographs, but it was absolutely stunning.  Between the mountain vistas and the jaw-dropping enormity of the wall itself, it was unforgettable, and something that you really should experience at some point in your life.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

What Else can we Stuff with Rice?

Stuffed chicken wing in Beijing, ChinaI just had a wing that was stuffed with rice, and I need to say that whoever invented this is a goddamned genius.  Wings are good.  Rice is good.  Why not stuff one into the other?

Why not indeed.

Stuffed chicken wing in Beijing, China

I got this from a street vendor, and it was even more delightful than I had hoped.  I thought I’d have to navigate around bones and cartilage (I love Chinese food, but their insistence on making many dishes a minefield of bones and cartilage can be a bit vexing), but nope: the genius who invented this thought of that.  It’s completely deboned, aside from the very bottom part of the wing, so you can just hold on to that and eat it like a hot dog on a stick.

Stuffed chicken wing in Beijing, China

The skin, which has been glazed and sprinkled with sesame seeds, is crispy and tasty.  The wing is filled with sticky rice with little bits of veggies, which is surprisingly spicy (it’s definitely not just plain rice).   The crispy, sticky-sweet exterior contrasts very nicely with the dense, spicy interior.  It seems like a novelty — like something you might get at the carnival — but it’s surprisingly delicious.

Duck on the Street

Duck wrap on the street in Beijing, ChinaEating Peking duck in Beijing is a no-brainer.  You’ve gotta do it.

However, since it typically involves a whole duck being served over multiple courses, it’s a difficult dish to enjoy solo.

Enter: this place (this was a random discovery, so I don’t know what it was called because it was all in Chinese):

Duck wrap on the street in Beijing, China

They serve individual Peking duck wraps — a perfect street food snack.

Duck wrap on the street in Beijing, China

It was quite tasty, though the ratio of veggies to meat was a bit off, and it wasn’t particularly better than any of the versions of Peking duck I’ve had back home.

Still, if I don’t get a chance to go to a legit Peking duck restaurant (and I haven’t ruled that out — food coma be damned), then at least I’ve checked it off the list.